A second language may help sustain the brain

The Washington Post: 

Being able to speak more than one language may help you think more clearly in later life, even if you’ve learned the second language as an adult, according to a new study.

Thomas H. Bak of the University of Edinburgh Center for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology, the author of the new paper, said previous studies had shown that “bilinguals” who suffered dementia began showing symptoms four to five years later than people who spoke only one language. But causality was not clear: Does mastering a second tongue keep brains active longer, or do people with that skill start off with healthier brains than those who don’t?

The relationship was the same for the 65 people who learned their second language after age 18, and seemed to get stronger with third, fourth and fifth languages, according to results published in the Annals of Neurology.

“I think it’s a study that could only have been done really with this cohort, this Scottish group,” said Fergus Craik, a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute, which is affiliated with the University of Toronto. “I’m not surprised at the effect, but it’s excellent to have this evidence.”

There’s always a question of which comes first, bilingualism or better brains, said Craik, who was not involved in Bak’s study. People by and large become bilingual not because of interest or intelligence but because they have to.

Read the whole story: The Washington Post

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